Litterbugs don’t care about community. They indulge their laziness and display disdain for their neighbors. Every morning I find fast food packaging and cigarette butts in the gutters and on the lawns around my house, tossed there by the same people each day, oblivious to the wider world which they pollute.
They rarely litter in front of us. They know that they are breaking our social rules. They know they could be named for what they are if their acts were done openly. So they litter secretly, stealthily opening their car doors in a parking lot to dump out their ashtrays, rolling down their windows to throw away their cups and wrappers, pretending they are alone in their own dirty world. Of course, smokers create the most litter.
Litter is expensive for the rest of us. Cleaning up litter is estimated to cost over $11 billion per year. Litter reduces property values.
Other kinds of litterbugs pollute our political life. Too lazy to discover the truth, too disdainful of others’ beliefs to care about listening, so unconcerned about community that they would rather create division than reach consensus, political litterbugs toss their junk into our public lives every day. It’s impossible to avoid their garbage.
You can usually recognize them by their reluctance to identify themselves. Hiding behind the anonymity of the internet, they say whatever they want: Obama is a Muslim, the earth is actually cooling, liberals are traitors.
Not all of the political litterbugs hide in the shadows. Some use outrageous claims to maintain their celebrity. Donald Trump has recycled his repeated claims that Obama was not born in the US to keep himself in the limelight of Republican politics. Despite his inability to produce any “evidence” for his claims, he remains a star among conservatives, a featured speaker at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference.
Alan West, former Republican congressman from Florida, tried to outdo Joe McCarthy by claiming during his 2012 reelection campaign about his fellow members of Congress, “I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party.”
Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma produced a book in 2012 about climate change called “The Greatest Hoax”, and has compared the Environmental Protection Agency to the Gestapo and EPA Administrator Carol Browner to Tokyo Rose. In July 2010, in the middle of the hottest summer on record since 1880, he said, “I don't think that anyone disagrees with the fact that we actually are in a cold period that started about nine years ago.”
As with all of these ridiculous claims, the immediate refutation by America’s climate experts made no difference. Inhofe can keep polluting our political atmosphere with his intellectual litter because, unlike the paper litter on our streets, political litter can serve a partisan purpose. Many Americans gleefully absorb and recycle this litter because it fits into their political ideology, whether it has any basis in fact or not. Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and others repeat anything that anyone says which makes their political opponents look bad, without taking responsibility for its veracity.
Litterbugs destroy community by polluting our neighborhoods and our airwaves, our streets and our conversations. Litterbugs of both kinds feel no responsibility for the consequences of their actions. The more litter there is around, the more gets tossed.
The organization Keep America Beautiful offers some suggestions for reducing litter, which can also be applied to political litterbugs. Choose not to litter; don’t trash our public discourse. Remind others not to litter; discourage political littering by naming the litterbugs and choosing not to follow their example. Set an example for others; make positive contributions to our political community.
The Town Brook organization is planning a local clean-up for October 26th. If we use the same energy to clean up our political discourse, we could have a more beautiful America.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 10, 2013